Memoirs of a Budget Mum

Mother to five, parent in progress and occasional kitchenista cookerella

Category: Faith Lessons

Maybe Baby? Our Faith Journey Growing into a Family of 7

One Sunday a good few years ago, my husband and I were sitting rather innocently at the backbenches in church, beside one of the hottest new additions to the cradle roll within our modest family-sized congregation. 

Whatever transpired during the half-hour worship segment is still a mystery to me, but apparently, my husband did something  strikingly sweet; he offered to carry a baby…that was not his own! He hugged him, cooed, cradled and rocked the charming little lad gently to sleep.

This, coming from my man, was pretty unusual then. I could understand why. After all, we conceived half a year into marriage and have had kids prancing around us ever since. 

We’ve have not, up till now, graduated from diaper-changing rituals and a good night’s rest visits us at the frequency of an eclipse. 

 

Occasionally, we admit to romancing ourselves with daydreams of idyllic vacations to far-flung destinations where we can sit with none a care in the world and stare vacantly into the vast blue horizon in the pursuit of doing NOTHING. (Trust me when I say that’s a much sought after pursuit after you become a parent!)

But of course, those honeymoon thoughts would quickly evaporate with the sounds of our children bickering over more important earthly affairs – like who should sit at the left, right and centre of me. 

You see, we never thought we would have a larger than usual family. 

Maybe Baby…

I remember years ago, struggling with some resistance in my own heart when I had to come to terms with the practical, economic and social costs of having children. I processed that over a few years where I transitioned gradually from a full-time working mum, to a part-time working mum and finally finding my footing and comfort level as a full-time stay-home mum over the course of a decade or so. These “labels”are really every woman’s necessary sojourn to navigate what she’s comfortable with and what’s best for her family, whatever the final outcome.

Needless to say, my husband struggled too. Whenever I broached the possibility of having another kid, I swear he’d give me the evil eye. When confronted, he’d quickly attribute this to random dust particles invading his line of sight. 

Unfortunately, I had other compelling evidence; like the time he changed the topic totally to something random and inane(distraction), and the time he gave a wearisome look and gazed forlornly at his receding hairline (pity), or the many times when his eyes seemed deliberately glued to the TV news like he was concentrating really, really hard on a slow news night (tuning out). Transitioning from a dual income family to a single income family obviously needed some weighing in.

It appears we were not alone. According to the recent 2015 list by the United Nations, Singapore’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) figures have been nothing short of dismal. 

Our tiny state has topped the charts globally in many areas and holds a reputation as a country well-known for running with well-oiled efficiency. 

Ironically, we have been sorely unproductive in replacing ourselves; ranking 197/200 and trailing only ahead of Portugal, Moldova and Bosnia (World Bank,2015). 

So what makes having babies in Singapore such an unappealing and unfascinating idea? 

Consider the recently aired episode on Talking Point which polled an audience on their views on TFR and having kids. Here are some views:

“In his early 20s and recently engaged, Eric Tan thinks Singapore is not a country of family-oriented people.

We saw ourselves growing up as individual people who aspire to a certain level of progress,” he said. And while many may aspire to get married, “I think it would stop there”, he added. “You could have all the childcare centres you want, but (having children is) never going to be a lifestyle choice that’s at the top of the mind for us.”

His fiancee, Cherylyn Wee, finds it difficult to balance career advancement and children in Singapore. If forced to choose between them, she said: “Then it takes me a much longer time to think about whether I could really give my best to the child but also give myself the life that I think I deserve.”

(Source: ChannelNewsAsia)

It’s a familar refrain and the media has played to its tune. Children require heavy commitments of time, resources and sacrifice. Let’s not get started on the naggingly stressful education system and inadequate work life balance. 

 (Source: Time Magazine)

Having Children: A Journey from Head to Heart

Going forward with our story, my husband and I have come a long way since that time and developed a renewed faith-based perspective on having children- we now are happy parents to five children.

Together with my husband, we’ve often heard comments from friends and strangers that gush that we are very brave, patriotic and must love children very, very much. Otherwise, and for any other reasons, we might have completely lost our common cents (pardon the pun). Truth be told, we are none of the above but would like to think we still have a good head on our shoulders. What had changed? 

Simply put, our convictions. It was a journey from our head to our hearts.   

Rev Henson Lim, a pastor, founder of Archippus Awakening and father of seven children writes about why couples might think twice about having children or having more children for that matter. I quote: 

“They may be worded differently but the bottomline is the same … children are an intrusion and a burden. They are not worth having at all because they disrupt our lives and careers. Not to mention financial resources and personal freedom. “

Rev Henson, who was also featured some years back in the Straits Times (article below), goes on in his blogpost “Large Families A Calling?”:

 
(Image: The Straits Times)

He continues, [“(My wife) Serene and I never started out wanting many children. Like every other well-trained Singaporean, we were happy just to have two. And interestingly, it was after having two that we were convicted by the Lord. 
If we said we trusted Him, would we trust Him with our family size? If we said we believed in His provision, would we believe Him to provide for all of us? If we agreed that children were blessings, would we allow the Lord to give us more of these blessings? I want you to know that we struggled to say “yes” to the above questions! And the biggest barrier was not whether we were called to have a big family or not, but pure selfishness! Yes, plain ol’ selfishness on our part! 

Like many others, Serene and I also wanted control over our freedom, time and money. We wanted to do what we wanted when we wanted. We wanted to have enough to spend on ourselves, to live comfortably and luxuriously. Any person knows that once he or she becomes a parent, their time is no longer their own! And if that is true for one child, can you imagine if that is multiplied many times over?! No thanks, Lord. Here I am, bless them!

…”But did God call us to have many children? No, He didn’t. He merely challenged us if we would stand on and live according to His Word.”

***

Trust me, this blessed couple has my utmost respect because they speak the truth in love. If you start calculating and doing a cost-benefit analysis of having children, you might have completely missed the point. 

Having children is not an issue of the head. It is an issue of the heart. 

It doesn’t have to all make sense and you don’t necessarily start out having the means to cope nor having all the answers. Rather, it takes simply Faith and Obedience. 

Undoubtedly, the popular two-parent, two-children family model is neat, reasonable and practical but anything more than that seems to upset the balance and rock the boat. The common, often-fearful conception is a picture of toil; of mother and father, shouldering a life of hard work, trying their best to provide for a big household of little ones amidst the inflating demands of work and life.

As Christians, we often talk about surrendering every aspect of our life to Him; our time, our money, our possessions, our space but what about our families, our family size or even our desire to have or even not to have children? 

It’s easy to close up to the idea of having more children when we live in a society where time and the pursuit of self is revered and material costs of living are rising by the day.  

How startlingly contrary this image is to God’s reassurances about children in Psalms 127:3: 

“Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.”

A reward! Not a burden! A blessing, not a liability! 

Parenting can be, for some, a journey of choosing to put love in action regardless of the obstacles and challenges, knowing full well that God will be faithful despite and in spite of our inadequecies. It may mean choosing to say, “As long as there’s room in our hearts, we’ll find a way.”

Indeed, our children are a blessing and a wonderful gift. We are honoured to be entrusted with these precious ones for our time here. 

Having children prunes us from deep within, and causes us to derive a greater meaning and pleasure in all that we do

We do not count on an early retirement but we look forward to walking hand in hand with them towards the eternal plans and purposes of God- a lasting inheritance of God’s redeeming work through all generations. 

My Year in Review

2016 was a monumental year for our family  for so many reasons. Some were big and some not but the days, always felt full and well-spent. 

We started off the year on unsure footing with the anticipation of welcoming our fifth child in the first quarter. We ended the year graduating our first into teenhood and a new phase of life.

In between that, Life showed up and we have been dealt with kindly, with generous portions of grace for each day. 

Here are some of our key takeaways from our family’s year in review: a necessary exercise in sobriety lest we forget that we have much, much, much to be thankful for. 

1. Recognize and Seize the Gifts

In 2016, we welcomed our fifth child, Jubilee into our family. I actually really gave birth to another human being! 

Although we were not quite sure we would be ready for big family dynamics (when will anyone ever be?), we felt real peace within when we received the news.

It was a peace that transcended the fluttering of anxiety, the fear of the unknown and the future, a peace that filled the void of lack, and a peace that sent societal expectations of what a standard family should look like, crashing. 

We let go of pragmatism and seized the gift. The gift of life is an extraordinary gift. There are no assets you could trade it for that could be worth its value. Such a gift deserves no excuses. 

  
Perhaps our days might be a little inconvenient or slightly topsy turvy, but…we knew we would somehow work it out. We had a precious bundle of life ready to kick her way into the universe and we couldn’t let our microscopic and myopic concerns steal away our joy! 

We spent a good part of the year enjoying our newborn and all the accompanying joys and stresses. Her cherubic smile is worth every ounce of effort and every extra brew of coffee.   

The kids all rose up to their “extra” duties in helping out around the house: not always autopilot but good enough! They know when to replenish her diaper stash and check for poo!  

The word “family” became a verb,  a collective effort . We were each challenged individually to pull our own weight and to do what we could to chip in to help the other. 

In between her siblings’ squabbles, this little one unifies with her adorable expressions and antics. We are a tighter and stronger ship because of her.

2. Flee Parenting Perils

In 2016, we persevered through our third year of homeschooling our two older children and graduated my firstborn through THE PSLE. Both my husband and I are relieved to have survived the aftermath

Was it tough? I don’t deny it was. It was hard because we had to juggle all the other family dynamics together with it. The year was well paced but also intense. We had to constantly evaluate why we do what we do and assess where we were heading, understanding the outcomes we valued and had in mind. 

  

Picture credit: momastery.com

We also had to conquer our fears of the PSLE and renew a vision of success and education that was broader and deeper than a mere T-score.

Ultimately, it was a test of our own parenting-speak and what we said we believed in. 

Through it, we had to remain grounded but at the same time, take leaps of faith. Parenting had never appeared more paradoxical and it was easy to jump into an abyss of insecurity and run with the tide in a mindless paper chase. 

Thankfully, we kept it real and our priorities ordered. The kids are happy with where they are at and ready to embrace the new year.

3. Streamline and Don’t Apologize

On the homefront, we had adjustments to make in order to accomodate all the above changes. The key discipline I had to learn this year was self-control. 

We had to be ruthless in determining how thin we spread ourselves across each 24 hour day. We took caution not to overschedule and overcommit. If that meant we had to cook less and order takeaways, so be it. 

In order to avoid a hectic lifestyle, we had to opt for less: forgo some activities, co-ops, get-togethers and consider them only when we have some breathing space. We also had to streamline logistics and cut out the non-essentials so that we wouldn’t need to do too much running around.

We also used and offered our home more as the base for interactions or for people and friends to drop by. Good friends always did and we never felt isolated nor like we were missing out. 

4. Never say Never 

Most surreal of all this year was stepping out of a comfortable and familiar place. For me, that was the home and in my years as a stay home mom… having a semblance of pursuing my passion was something rare and fleeting in the growing years. 

This year, I never thought it would happen but it did. I was invited to be a part of a panel of experts to share my views on the PSLE in the national newspapers.

  Source credit: The Straits Times

I also wrote a piece from my heart about the PSLE t-score which was published in The Straits Times. In addition, I have started to take on freelance writing and editorial projects on the side. It was a great honour to have the opportunity to enjoy my family and work at what I love doing at the same time. 

Things will always work out somehow. At the end of the year, we need to regale ourselves with such a sentiment. While 2016 sets on us, let us approach the new year with the hope and assurance for greater beginnings, with love from our family to yours.

 

First Flight

There’s a mixed pot of feelings you experience when your eldest child stands at the cusps of independence, perched ready to take off into full-fledged adolescence.

On one hand, there’s relief. You can move on from the crucial first six years of childhood where you’ve survived bumbling through one of the steepest learning curves of your life.  

On the other hand, its strangely nostalgic. That was you some 20 years ago. You can identify with this quest for identity and then suddenly not, because this brave new world has been swirling around you at a hurtling pace.  You’ve known this journey, yet you can’t tell what’s ahead. 

It is scary too, in many ways: to watch with baited breath,  the uncovering of a shell that we as parents have constructed over her, unfold. 

This same shield of good intentions that we have cloaked around her to protect her from the harsher realities of the outside universe, must soon be put to the test: Have we built the foundations right? Did we dig deep? 

Unchartered journey

Unchartered journey

 

This releasing of one’s child into a bigger world that’s not your nest can be an intimidating experience for both child and parent.  All too soon, she will be subject to the wider enclave of the unknown and unchartered- one that is governed by a different set of laws, risks and dangers. 

Intimidating though it may be, it is a necessary rite of passage that every parent knows must be carried out, if not sooner then later: it will affirm your little one’s ability to survive and allow her to win her first fruits of independence and success that is apart from your warm nurturing grasp. 

Just look at any creature of nature; perhaps the way a mother swallow releases her young for its first flight and watches from the side at how her baby gets tugged first by the weight of gravity, only to discover in mid-air relief, that its primal instinct to spread its wings will take it into its victoriously-sweet virgin ascent to freedom.

First Flight

First Flight

The gravitas of that moment hits home and is significant on its own. You pause for a moment to take stock and wonder if your child is resilient enough for these first few tests of Life. 

Your heart skips nervously as you pray that the world won’t swallow her up, or chip at her self-esteem or dull her senses or coat her with the first clothes of cynicism that you’ve worn yourself advertedly or inadvertedly in your 30-something, weary, wary adulthood. 

Obviously, you know the answer inside. Of course it will happen. Because that’s what happened to most of us. Until…Yes, until… we discovered that the wind that charted our course was not construed merely by this greater universe but by its Maker. 

These were the winds of Grace and breath of Salvation that rescued us from the brevity of flitting aimlessly in this strange world and the condemnation of waiting for the next unexpected turn to crash into us or for the next ruthless predator to swoop in for a kill. 

We can find shelter in the One  who gave us the form not merely to survive but to soar and to live beyond our wildest dreams, and who whispers purpose and destiny into our feeble Spirits. The One also, who has the ability to still a raging tempest both within and out.

  25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 

29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 

30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

And then, there is release…true release. Not just to anyone, but to the Father. Those fears, they are unfounded. Those worldly questions that have creeped into your mind on more than one occasion (“What school shall she go to?”, “How far can she go?”, ” What shall she eat?”, “What shall she wear?”) retreat and take on a sudden insignificance. You’re aligned to a broader vision and you look UP. You learn to let go and release your precious one onto the the wings of the Abba Father, to be carried by His Everlasting Arms. 

This is the necessary ritual that every parent who understands the heart of the Father partakes in. In fact, this is the primary step that will make a marked difference in that child’s life- and yours as a parent:

When you will sacrifice that burden of human effort, relinquish self-imposed determinism and lay down parenting trophies at the altar, you will await to receive the immeasurable grace and richness of God’s great plan that will far surpass any human plan you have for that child. 

Abraham did that for Isaac, the birds do that for their young and I will need to do that for my children. I need to follow Abraham up that mountain. And so I discover, as my child takes her first flight, that it is not so important what I do or what she does, but its more important what He will do, what He already does and what He’s already done. 

It is a coming-of-age development for me as a mother, to invite and not fear the unknown, with its risks and its dangers, its knocks and occasional devastations, by just finding peace in His love and will. By trusting God with my children- to trust that God will see them through every obstacle, every hurt, every temptation, every failure, every imperfection, every blessing, every joy. 

“Are you not much more valuable than they?” Indeed, we are. There is no doubt about that. Allow me to end with this poignant excerpt by Tim Keller in Counterfeit Gods:

Abraham took that journey, and only after that could Abraham love Isaac well and wisely. 

If Isaac had become the main hope and joy of Abraham’s life, his father would have either overdisciplined him (because he needed his son to be “perfect”) or underdisciplined him (because he couldnt bear his son’s displeasure or both. He would have overindulged him but also become overly angry and cruel, perhaps even violent, when his son disappointed him. 

Why? Isaac’s love and success would have become Abraham’s identity and joy. He would have become inordinately angry, anxious and depressed if Isaac ever failed to love and obey him. And fail he would have, since no child can bear the full weight of godhood. Abraham’s expectations would have driven him away or twisted and disfigured his spirit.

Here then, is the practical answer to the “Isaacs” in our lives. We must offer them up. We need to find a way to keep from clutching them too tightly. We will never do so by mouthing abstractions about how great God is. We have to know, to be assured, that God so loves cherishes, and delights in us that we can rest our hearts in Him for our significance and security and handle anything that happens in life. 

When the magnitude of what He did -by not withholding His One and Only Son on the cross of Calvary- dawns on us, it makes it possible finally to rest our hearts in him rather than in anything else.”

Days with our Children

There are so many ways I’m an imperfect mum. These are one of them: can’t keep a tidy house. This is breakfast, homemade bread in a my trusty loaf pan, taken haphazardly over toy knick-knacks strewn over the kitchen counter. 

This mess is a constant. It never really goes away. It nags and scratches at my seemingly capable veneer of motherhood.
The desire to want to be able to “keep a neat house” creeps in insidiously and I suddenly feel the urge to start yelling: “Who’s things are these…come and keep them!” for the umpteenth time…in a week or so, or more accurately many years or so…of picking up on toy trails and running after the little ones to keep house.

This desire…wells up…

  

But am glad it hits me fast. These terribly imperfect messes are actually really pretty perfect.

They are perfect traces of the days with our children. The times that they are with us, under our rainbow of care and love.

They are the perfect present of the NOW: the heady schedules, dirty laundry, tumble and fun, picking of fights, wiping little tears…

How utterly foolish we might be if we are tempted to strike them off as messy and undesirable, just because these don’t make US look good on the outside…

This amazing season of living with young children in our homes and hearts are not going to last forever.

In a flash, we would wish we were picking up toys. We would miss witnessing the crazy, bustling, messiness of life within the home. We would miss having breakfast and seeing traces of the children at every turn and corner in the echoes of our empty hallways. Our furniture would look and feel tidy but cold without a warm little body to snuggle close. Indeed,the days are long but the years are short.

This desire, it dissolves…

Only to return, in the thankfulness and resolve to live in the joy, abundance and the mess of each and every imperfect day…

I love tidy homes, but as a mum, I am convinced it is so much more important to keep a tidy heart. Weeding out our blatant insecurities, worries and expectations at the start of each day and enjoying, no, reveling in the spirit of a happy home filled with dirty laundry, tumble and fun and trailing toys ❤️.

#mumphilosophy #gratitude #keepingatidyheart

 

Enroute to Happiness: How we are coping with PSLE

We’re merely two months away from PSLE, the major high stakes national exam  in this country for primary schoolers. Concerned ones have been asking how we are coping and it seems like a concern: It’s a first for both of us: first time candidate, first time mother-of-candidate. It all seems like a big deal with quake-sized trepidations but… we’re glad that we’re managing.

  

We’re managing to shrug off the stress and the pressure cooker environment.

We’re managing to prioritize our relationships above the results.

We’re managing to keep our eyes on long term goals and not invest our all on a short term sprint.

We’re learning it’s important to pace, and enjoy the ride.

We’re managing our expectations of what it means to be successful and that it’s more than a t-score.

We’re managing to find our security in our faith rather than our fight.

The best part?

We’re managing to relate deeper and build into our collective memories as mother and daughter.

Spending a sizable chunk of our time talking and communicating is pivotal. There are crazy homeschooling days when our “home room” breaks out in spontaneous conversations about anything and everything! Sometimes there’s just so much to be done, but we just talk.

It is an absolute delight when the 11year old comes to me when she’s stressed or in need of a break and she goes on and on for 2-3 hours at a time, sharing what’s on her heart.

I confess it’s nerve wrecking at times when I’m in mumzilla-mode and think of how she could otherwise be using time more effectively scribbling on some practice paper or burrowed deep in a book somewhere. I’m thankful though that there’s a glitch in me that ensures I snap out of that faulty thinking.

When our children have that much to say…we should count it an absolute privilege to listen. We learn so much about them when we do: their encounters with friends through the week, their lofty ambitions and nagging anxieties, their perspective of life, their reactions to people and random situations, their hum-tune of the week & admiration of Megan Trainor.

Over the months, I’ve listened to her spiel memorized lines from my Baby Blues comic stash that she’s read from cover to cover, over and over. She artfully throws out choice quotes which so resemble my stay-home mum struggles that we both crack up and laugh our socks off. Laughing at ourselves is so important in times like these.

 

She has time to draw, which is priceless. All her random sketches, I don’t take them at all for granted. Every single one, an expression of who she is, and what she’s like at a single moment in time. She’s expressed her keenness in graphic design. It’s what I aspired towards when I was her age. Life comes a full circle, doesn’t it?

Whatever the future holds, I have faith she’ll find her way. If I may distill some thoughts on parenting a tween through this:

– Always welcome your children. When they want to talk, listen. Not listen while scrolling on your handphone, listen with your heart.

– Refrain from judging and over-evaluating. Many times they know what their offense is, but they need the moral courage to do what’s right. Knowing you’re on their side goes a long way.

– Pace them in their journey. It’s always a comfort for them to know they have you near. Stretch them with warm-ups. Be a running partner at times. Otherwise, cheer from the sidelines.

With the incessant demands of today’s pressure cooker society, these are happy gifts we can’t buy but can give freely to our children. They are, an open heart, an attentive mind, a willingness to connect. Top that with an ice cream, and we’re en route to happiness and happy children!

1000 Hugs

Valentine’s Day just came and went and we probably think we’ve known a thing or two about love. Perhaps we scoff at the tired material parade that it’s become, but I’m sure we have been, to some extent in our lives, willing recipients of loving admiration. We might have grasped it in some measure through a stalk of rose, a pretty trinket, a thoughtful meal, a blush and a kiss, or a whispered word of significance.

The truth is, I never really knew what love really meant till I became a wife and mother. That’s when my idealistic newfangled visions of romance and notions of this four letter word evolved and dissolved into the all too-dramatic realisation that my heart doesn’t stop for these things.

1000 hugs


On the eve before Valentine’s, my six year old wrote me a letter while I was napping. I had earlier turned down her request to open up the craft box since I was about to prioritise the heavy-lidded ness weighing down on my eyelids …the unfortunate result of post-lunch fatigue. I told her to wait till I woke up and “make do” with whatever pencils and stationary available. It was a rather selfish, careless rejection and at the corner of my eye I could see her glimpses of disappointment before I nodded off to sleep.

When I awoke, I saw her and her little sister chirping excitedly about something that they had just made for me. It was a plainly pencilled letter scotched together in a makeshift envelope. “Mummy, I wrote you a letter” she grinned half bashfully and excitedly as I unveiled its contents with mildly sheepish anticipation.

You see, what I saw in this humble piece of scrap paper jolted me awake immediately and made my heart suddenly fuzz up. It was without doubt, Love: the very elusive, sought after, complicated, sometimes twisted notion that is the thirst of every breathing being. But there it was, plain, unadulterated, for my eyes only to behold, an expression from a little gleaming human being beside me who’d somehow unravelled the knots of that seemingly complex emotion.

My instinctive response was to feel immediately small. Why was I even a deserving recipient of 1000 hugs and of her unconditionally rendered heart? Would I even think of giving her 1000 hugs as a gift of my love and affection? How devastatingly simple is it to love another human being? I thought of how I’d earlier brushed her aside and yet…her note preached to my heart the fullness of love afresh in all of its glory.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”.

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